The end of January was dark and cold. So on the 21st, together with a group of keen divers and photographers, we boarded a plane headed to sunny Hurghada. The Winter Warmer 2018 was officially on its way.
What is The Winter Warmer?
Many people overlook the Red Sea in winter, as the water is cooler, at around 23degrees on average. But I love the empty dive sites at this time of year, and there is still plenty of daylight to work with. The Winter Warmer is a trip designed for photographers. Think of it as your annual photography shakedown. It’s a great excuse to run from the UK chill and indulge in some warm water fun with your camera, honing skills that you will use for the upcoming year’s photography. With this in mind, the selection of dive aims to offer the best photo opportunities whilst minimizing the travelling time.
There are even some opportunities for “open deck” diving at several sites. Open deck offer experienced divers with the best opportunity to enjoy maximum freedom. After a thorough briefing, “the pool is open”. Dive buddies can jump in whenever they want and dive for as long as they want as long as safe limits are kept. The Strait of Tiran offered the first chance for an open deck day to enjoy some of the most colourful reefs in the Red Sea. Tiran remains to this day one of my favourite coral reefs the world over. You just cannot beat Jackson in all her glory!
This is not a trip for camera snobs. On this week you found cameras of all shapes and sizes – from a trusty GoPro, a couple of RX100s, some Fuji and Panasonic compacts, right through Olympus mirrorless options and SLRs.
The photo ops: residents
The check dive is usually done at Sha’ab El Erg, about an hour north of Hurghada. The site is famous for the resident pod of dolphins and as soon as we moored up to the reef, we spotted them. Unfortunately, they were somewhat elusive during the dive and only a couple of us got a glimpse of them. This was not our only dolphin encounter, however. On a dive at the Barge, we were in the water with a playful dolphin that stayed with us for well over 10 mins. Another group enjoyed a pod of about 6 adults at Bluff Point. Sadly, I had only my macro lens on (see, it happens to us all!) so you will have to take my word for it, and enjoy this pic of taken at the same site a previous year!
It was a great trip for turtles too. The Barge, Gordon Reef in Tiran and Sark and Yolanda were some of the dive sites were these guys made an appearance, allowing some of the folks to take some fantastic pictures.
The little fishies
The little fishies were also popular with photographers. Long Nose hawkfish became something of a challenge on the trip. Each person worked hard to get close to these shy guys. An unusually friendly Forster’s hawkfish posed for us beautifully, on top of a very photogenic lettuce coral in Jackson Reef. Everyone had a go at practising different lighting techniques and composition.
Last among the residents we all shot during the trip was the stonefish. We found a couple at The Barge, one of them completely exposed on top of some colourful hard coral formation. Stonefish rarely move and once we found them we all had the chance to visit them over several dives.
A bit of rust
The Northern Red Sea offers a great range of wrecks. During this Winter Warmer, we visited the Giannis D, the mighty Thistlegorm, and the Dunraven. These are incredibly photogenic wrecks where the workshop focused on ambient light techniques. I personally also really like wrecks for black and white shots. They were perfect for the B&W conversion session enjoyed when we discussed photo editing (one of the nightly group presentations on the trip).
The photo ops: techniques
The wrecks are also ideal subjects for honing wide angle skills. After the guides have given their standard dive brief I give a specific photo brief. And I was happy to see a group of photographers had listened carefully. I found them well positioned on the stern of the Giannis D, trying to get that iconic picture of lady’s rear section with the funnel and the H-frame in the background. Another popular technique to play with on this workshop is close focus wide angle techniques, using the soft corals growing on some of the debris hanging off the port side of the wreck.
As the workshop progressed, photography techniques evolve. Well… the whole point is to improve after all! One of the techniques I was very keen to get across was how to control the blue background in the pictures and we had plenty of opportunities to practice. Shark and Yolanda offered schooling jacks, turtles and plenty of beautiful soft corals to practice this.
Some creative lighting
The Thistlegorm and its cargo also gave us the chance to fine-tune some skills such as controlling ambient light while using strobe lighting. always a bit tricky when you are inside the dark cargo holds of a sunken ship.
Photography is all about light and the afternoon dive offered the chance to photograph some beautiful dappled light scenes. It requires a good understanding of how to control the exposure, both of the background and foreground. Both Thomas Reef and The Barge offered a beautiful anemone and clownfish perfectly positioned. These are classics shots and I take great pride when divers finally nail their own version of Red Sea perfection.
Too soon we realized this year’s Winter Warmer was over. It was time to rinse our kit and pack our bags. Our home for the week was the trusty Cyclone, with the oh so experienced Adel and Hamada as our dive guides. None of us would have been able to enjoy the week nearly as much without their hard work and support on board. And I always have to say an extra thanks to the Chef. Osama kept us all well fed, morning, noon and night. Thanks, guys. We will be back soon.
Join Mario on one of the “Shark Quest Photography “ photo trip to have the opportunity to photograph the majestic hammerheads of the Egyptian offshore reefs and with some luck even mantas and oceanic whitetips.
Mario is well known for his patient, calm approach to teaching underwater photography, he will help you develop new skills and build your confidence in a relaxed and fun environment.